Week one is still a week away out but that hasn't stopped the injury bug from evolving into an injury monster and swallowing up a portion of the league's players. At the time this article was composed, the NFL has racked up 75 players that are out indefinitely or gone for the season. Twenty-five of those injuries are anterior-cruciate ligament related. Think about that for one moment. Seriously? A third of the overall season-ending injuries are due to blown out knees. Yet, here we sit with more preseason games on the scheduling slate. Though SB Nation's own Adam Stites makes a very good argument against blaming the preseason.
"With so many injuries occurring without contact, or in practice, it's also tough to entirely put the blame on preseason. Starting the regular season earlier might lessen the amount of injuries in meaningless games, but it certainly wouldn't make things any safer. The unfortunate reality is that devastating knee injuries are a part of sports, whether there is contact or not."
Granted, there is no definitive evidence that injuries have increased because of the new CBA that has been put into motion in 2011. In fact, 2013 saw 31 ACL tears before the season and only 22 for last season. However, it's less about the preseason and more about the revisions to the practice schedule that are a cause for concern. Could it be possible that with such limited practice abilities that players bodies are ill-prepared for the game whether it be non-contact or not?
This is certainly a grueling sport as we are all aware but there is interesting theory shared by some football fans that makes a ton of sense. It's simply that these athletes are not conditioned properly for the sport they are going to play. In fact, it's not out of the realm of possibility to think that players don't even get into the right playing form for the first quarter of the season. It's an easing in process for just about everyone stepping out onto the gridiron on Sundays. Veterans will obviously talk about the 'grind' and how they all play hurt for the majority of the season. This may be true but there are preventative measures that could be put in place that would allow for these players to be more prepared. How about letting the coaching staff and medical staff of the teams decide the best way to go about practice?
Not to sound like an advocate for more punishment but there is validity in the arguments against the current CBA. The new CBA prohibits the traditional art form that was the 'two-a-day' practices and also limits how many times players can practice in full pads. By doing so, you are basically preserving the player through practice to thrust him later into the fire that is the NFL schedule. Nobody is truly benefiting from this current model except maybe owners and the NFL who continue to receive huge paydays off these exhibition contests. The players though are only seeing their careers become shorter and shorter due to losing a year here or a few months there not to mention their quality of life afterwards.
If you are going to be competing week-to-week, in the most grueling sport where players have described the beatings feeling similar to a car wreck each day, then perhaps it's best to have the players conditioned properly. Yet, every year it's been the same result. The NFL has limited teams to 11 padded practices for the first eleven weeks of the season. As a coaching staff, you are only allotted to have two padded practices in a one week period once. After that only one day per week can there be full-contact. In the final six weeks of the season a team is allowed to only conduct three padded practices. It just seems like a lot of time away from the actual game-type situations. Of course, the NFLPA fought for some of these provisions including limiting the amount and types of practices that can be conducted during the bye week. That's not to say that all players were in agreement about the changes but what's done is done at this point.
For the owners and league, a perfect world would consist of an 18 game schedule with the four exhibition games still very much alive. However, with all these injuries sustained before we have even seen one minute of meaningful football, doesn't this seem to be a broken method? I'm all for player safety but at some point these guys have to be ready to complete their jobs. Say what you want about the Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson's methods for coaching but they were able to build physical teams.
As far as the Cowboys are concerned, Jason Garrett has been trying to create that same environment at Valley Ranch. Bill Belichick would like to do the same in New England but these 'throwback' coaches haven't received any favors from the league. This is the National Football League, it's a physical game that demands a lot from it's players. This agreement has continuously put a damper on coaches and players abilities to field a healthy team. If its not one thing, it's the other.
You cannot hit a player in the head for obvious reasons, so now players are flying at each other's knees. You can't hit a quarterback at all practically unless you go for the mid-section which results in numerous cracked ribs. You can't practice too much because we have to limit player injuries and all of this really doesn't make much sense. The player must be protected but he also must be prepared for the violent nature of the sport. Possibly looking into amending the practice provisions may actually better condition the players for the NFL.
If the NFL truly believes it's necessary to limit the practices and preparation then why not limit the exposure, too? The only true way to do this is by cutting the preseason games in half but that would mean two less box office payoffs that the NFL nor the owners would ever allow. So until then, we will be forced to sit through more meaningless exhibitions and the teams will suffer injuries in the process. It is the unfortunate truth of the NFL, injuries are sad but it's part of the game. Regardless of a lot of big-time players suffering season-ending injuries, the money is still pouring in.
The NFL has tried so desperately to remove itself from the days of old with constant "protecting the player" campaigns. Yet, the one caveat about a lot of the teams from the 90's was they were conditioned enough to play full seasons. The NFL has always been a game of attrition but it just feels as though the "next man up" trigger is being pulled earlier and more often in each season. Maybe it's time for the NFL to take a step back and figure out a better remedy for this very huge dilemma.